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Trouble Comes to Stone Creek

Calico Mary

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Rye bumped into Mark at the saloon, Rye was cleaning the keys on the piano. Mark said, "Hey you varmint, they must be hard up 'round here to vote for you for sheriff". Rye laughed and said, "Yea, if I get elected ya may wanna stick around, I'm sure I'll need a deputy or two". Mark, said, "Well I'll think about it but no promises", I'm a wandering soul". Rye shook his head in agreement and they proceeded to finish a half a bottle of whiskey. They talked about the trouble in Stone Creek.

The election results were being tallied as they spoke. There were over 500 ballots that needed to be counted and two people were doing the job. Two ladies from the church had volunteered to count them. Beauchamp was at the church staring at the ladies while they counted. He didn't trust anyone. He vowed that he would win this election and if he didn't he was ready to demand a recount.

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While Rye awaited the results I stopped in at the telegraph office and a 2 1/2 dollar gold piece bought me 10 minutes with the key and in private.  I quickly sent an inquiry to the Nashville office and messages that had been sent to me began to be relayed.  I didn't bother to write them out, as I had a good ear.  News of Matthias Gardner's death and Zeb Gardner's renewed activity was the only thing of consequence.  Then another message about a shifty little gunfighter looking for a lawyer came through and I keyed a response through to Stone Creek.  "In Tuscon. STOP Pass along my regards to the man and let him know I will await his arrival.  J. Mark END"


I walked back to the Saloon where Rye was still waiting and I relayed the messages to him, including my own response.  He shook his head "Mark, do you really care so little about your own life?  Or is it all a show?"


I tossed back a drink "If you are trying to ask if I have a death wish,  No. No I don't.  I do, however, believe you live your best life when fear is conquered, so I don't let little things like rabid gunmen worry me too much. Besides, if you win the election, I know I'll get a fair shake if there is a shooting."


He shook his head as if he had just spent the last hour talking to an insane person.  Maybe he had . . .



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Copper looked at the Preacher as the man stared at the horizon.

He turned, looked; he saw clouds, the far mountains, shining in the sun, he saw a hawk, tilting on the wind:  curious, he looked back at Linn, but spoke not.

"You're wondering what I'm looking at," Linn said quietly.

"Yes, sir," Copper said in a small voice.

Linn rubbed his knees.  "Do you remember how we were cleaning the kitchen floor earlier?"

"Yes, sir."

"Do you recall we kept at it until the entire floor was finished?"

"Yes, sir."

"And do you recall we didn't do the whole floor at once."

Copper tilted his head a little, curious, the way a young boy will do when he's trying to figure something out.

"We divided it into sections, and we only did one section at a time."

"Yes, sir."

"That's kind of how I put together the funeral service."

Copper blinked.  

He'd stood near enough to Preacher Keller to reach out and touch his coat:  father and son both wore plain, unrelieved black, except for a white shirt; each wore polished boots and a neatly tied necktie, and Copper grinned at his reflection in the long tall mirror.

He'd never worn a suit before.

"We had to build his coffin," Linn said quietly.

"Yes, sir."

"Do you remember how we cut the corners?"

"Yes, sir."

"I could have just knocked together a rough box for him, but he deserved better than that."

Copper nodded.

"Is that why you named the baby Mathias?"

The preacher looked at his son and laughed a little.

"Yes, Copper.  Yes, it is."


The boy looked at his father, a serious expression on his young face.

"I like the part where you said you committed his body to the earth from whence it came, but his name was not going to be buried as well."

It was the Preacher's turn to look seriously at his son, which lasted for about three seconds:  his face softened, and he smiled, just a little.

"It used to be tradition not to name a child until they reached one year of age," the Preacher explained, "but neither your Mama nor I were willing to wait."

"Yes, sir."

"Mathias worked hard to gain our trust. He came to us ..."
The Preacher stopped, bowed his head a little, cleared his throat, and Copper stood up, came over and hugged his Pa.

Sometimes the best thing that can be said, is said without words.

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The Mayor of Tucson made an announcement that the election results were in. People were lined up outside city hall, a small adobe style building that had room for about 40 people. People were squirming to see who won. The Mayor announced, " We counted 537 ballots and Mr. J.T. "Rye" Miles had 456, Mr. Beauchamp had 81. The crowd of about 100 roared with cheers! Rye and Beauchamp were standing side by side when the results were read. Beauchamp gave a salty grin to Rye and mumbled something that Rye could not hear. He was sure it was some kind of threat. Rye said, "Thanks to all who voted for me and let's have a celebration, first drink is on me, let's head on over to the saloon". Rye looked at Beauchamp and said loud enough for everyone to hear, Mr. Beauchamp, I'll buy you two drinks"! The crowd laughed as Beauchamp, scowled at Rye and stormed out of the building.

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Sheriff Cody stepped inside Whiskey's Saloon, and slowly looked around. Seeing a stranger fitting the description Doc Ward had given him leaning at the bar, Cody walked up beside the man and leaned against it himself. Motioning to Johnny for a beer, Cody stood waiting. Once he had the beer in hand, he took a sip and glanced at the man to his left. "Come in on the stage?" The stranger glanced over, his face expressionless as he nodded. Cody continued, "Most people go over to Clara's for a bite to eat. Good food there." The stranger shrugged and continued sipping his beer.


Cody slid a little closer, and lowered his voice. "I heard it mentioned that you were looking for a lawyer here in town. The only lawyer here that practiced here is gone. Tucson, I believe. If you have business with him, you can do it there. If it is anything other than a legal matter, I'd advise you to keep going. He's hell on wheels in just about any kind of a scrap, and unless you intend to back shoot him or catch him off guard, you probably won't live to spend any money you've been paid. At any rate, I expect you to be on that stage when it rolls out." Glaring a him, the stranger asked "And if I'm not?" Cody smiled, "Why that would mean you were foolish, and are either in jail or at the undertaker's." Hearing the sound of a revolver cocking, the stranger glanced down to see Cody covering him with his gun. "You're going to have a helluva time getting that cross draw out in this position. Your beer is on me, but you do me a favor. Tell Zeb Gardner that this town is sick of him and his actions, and if he wants something done, he should stop hiding like a coward and have the guts to do it himself." Seeing the man's reaction, Cody knew he had hit the nail on the head. "Now, go to Clara's, grab a bite to eat, and be on that stage when it rolls out." Cody watched as the man walked out, and was watching as he got on the stage when it rolled out.

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Kitty looked up at Anna Mae, her eyes big and solemn and very, very blue.

Kitty was a serious little girl and I don't think she was related to Copper but the two were close as twins, at least when they weren't busy with one of us.

Anna Mae smiled down at Kitty, reached down and caressed the child's apple cheek with the backs of her fingers, then mother and daughter looked over at father and son.

Boy and man were roping the bed with the same vigorous abandon, running rope first north and south at close intervals, then east and west, weaving it through, and finally applying a rude twisting winch to draw it taut:  they worked the strands, coaxing any slack out of them, patting the interwoven, tight-laced bedwork, each of them grinning to hear the good weave hum as they were palm-smacked.

They'd measured the space available in the two new bedrooms, calculated how much distance was needed around each bunk; Copper turned a hand to the building of the addition, and when he looked around, the Pastor could tell the boy was seeing his own work, his own contribution, and he knew this meant something to the lad.

He knew this was his room, in more ways than one.

Now the two of them were making the bunks; two children, two beds, each a good solid timber frame with solid posts and good bracing, for the Pastor knew once they cranked the rope tight, had he not a good solid bed, why, he might bow in inward at the very least.

Finally -- when the sawdust was swept up, the floor wiped down, when each bed was in its room, and in its rightful place, father and son put a fresh tick and fresh bed linens on their new construction, and the Pastor gave his son a curious look.

"I wish I knew this a year ago," he said slowly.

"Wish you knew ... what?" Pastor Keller asked.

Copper blinked and wiped at something wet at the corner of one eye, then he turned and sat tentatively on the edge of the bed and looked up at his father.

"I never had a bed of my own before," he said.

"In that case let's get your sister's bed made," Preacher Keller said gently. "Remember we cut everything out all at the same time?"

"Yes, sir."

"We try-fitted the braces and crossmembers, we measured out the line -- the rope," he corrected himself -- "and now we get to put together your sister's bed."

The Preacher began stacking lumber and tools, waited until Copper had a go into the next room, followed.


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The townspeople of Stone Creek followed the undertaker’s wagon in small groups as it made its way to a small grove of aspen at the base of Badger Peak.  As the wagon grew closer, no one could help but notice the slim form of Evil, standing alone next to a heap of freshly dug soil, leaning on crutches.  Sedalia Dave and his crew had come out yesterday to help dig the grave, and the undertaker pulled up just a few feet away.  As the rest of the town quietly filed by Evil to take their places on the opposite side of the grave, Pastor Keller paused for a moment next to the young man.  “Are you holding up ok?  Is there anything Anna Mae and I can do for you?”  There was no indication that Evil had even heard his words.  Sighing just a little, the minister laid his hand on the grieving brother’s shoulder for just a moment, before moving forward to a spot just at the edge of the trees.  Turning to the gathered townfolk, Keller opened his Bible and began, “Please join me in a prayer….”.


Evil hadn’t really heard the man, or was even much aware that the entire town, and pretty much everyone else within a 20 mile radius had found their way to the little farm that day.  His mind wouldn’t let go of his memories of just two nights ago, that horrible, tragic night…..he and Calico and White Eagle had had a quiet evening and had gone to bed early.  At some point in the middle of the night, they’d been awakened by the sound of the horses panicking, and the smell of smoke.  They had all run outside without their guns, caring only about rescuing the animals from the burning barn.  White Eagle was in the lead, and had already cleared the porch, with Calico only a few steps behind and Evil just coming out the door when the gunfire erupted.  Evil saw White Eagle reel and almost fall before he managed to lurch to the corral.  Evil ducked back in to grab his rifle, but as he moved back out to the porch, he didn’t even have time to bring the rifle to his shoulder before he felt the bullet rip into his leg.  As he fell, he glanced over towards where Calico had been, intending to yell at her to come get the gun, but all he saw was his sister sprawled face down, just off the end of the porch.


“NO!!!  Cali….oh God, Cali…..NO!!!!”  Scrambling around him in the dark, Evil finally got his hand on the rifle he had dropped as he had fallen, but from the position he was in all of his shots went wild, and the tears that were welling up in his eyes unbidden hadn’t helped any.  He could see two shadowy figures just at the edge of the tree line leading to the road….even in the dark there was no doubt in his mind that it had been Zeb Gardner and Alice Slye.  He even recognized the evil laughter emanating from both as they rode off, in no big hurry it seemed.  Obviously they knew that they had wounded all three of their victims…Evil wasn’t sure how bad his leg was, he didn’t think it was lethal, but he knew he’d never be able to put any weight on it.  That didn’t stop him from crawling over to the prone form of his sister, begging God the whole way to please let her be alright…


Evil had just managed to drag himself over to her as White Eagle came running, he’d managed to throw open the barn doors for the horses to escape, even with a bullet through his shoulder.  White Eagle fell to his knees next to Calico’s still form, and as gently as he could rolled her over.  Then he bowed his head, took a deep breath, and told his good friend, “I am sorry, my brother, but she….she….is….gone.”  Seeing the look of despair on Evil’s face, White Eagle put aside his own sorrow and pain as best he could, as he helped Evil to a sitting position so he could cradle his sister in his arms.  He couldn’t help but notice Evil’s leg though, and the pain from his own wound was starting to pierce through the initial adrenaline rush he’d experienced.  “I’d better go get Doc Okie…you keep that rifle close in case they come back.  I’ll bring the doctor as soon as I can.”  Evil didn’t give a response, and White Eagle didn’t bother waiting for one before leaping on his stallion and racing towards town to get them both medical help, and inform the town of what had happened.


Evil still had his head bowed, not noticing anyone, as Pastor Keller finished with “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”  It was then that the gathered crowd noticed White Eagle approaching, one arm in a sling, the other arm half full of the few flowers he’d found after having spent most of the morning searching for them.  Quite a few people had wondered where he was, why he hadn’t been there for the whole ceremony, now it made sense.  He silently moved among Calico’s closest friends, the people she’d thought of as family, handing out the flowers as he went but saving the last few for himself and Evil.  After Seamus, Blackwater, Slim, DocWard, Stirrup, and Grumpy had lifted the coffin from the wagon and placed it on ropes strung across the grave, everyone filed by and left the flowers on top.  Most of the women were crying, quite a few of the men had tears in their eyes as well.  Gardner had gone too far this time…and he was going to pay.  There was no excuse for snuffing out such a young and promising life like that….like a coward, attacking in the dark, evil like that just had to be stopped one way or another. 


Most of the people wanted to offer what comfort they could to Evil, but Doc Okie just waved them away as he stepped up to his patient.  After finally getting Evil to acknowledge him, Okie whispered a question, trying to determine just how much damage he was doing to his leg by coming out here.  The physician knew he wouldn’t have been able to stop Evil though, short of chaining him to the cabin walls, and besides….Evil needed to be there as part of his grieving process.  Evil pulled an envelope from his shirt pocket and handed it to Okie, simply saying “please read this before everyone leaves.”  With that, Evil turned on his crutches to make his way back to the lonely cabin, with White Eagle by his side, both men with their heads and shoulders bowed…it was a toss-up as to which one was hurting worse, and not just physically.


With Pastor Keller’s help, Okie got the attention of the residents of Stone Creek, asking them to remain for just a few minutes.  Okie then opened the envelope, pulled out the sheet of paper, and began reading.  “My dear friends, if someone is reading this, it means I am no longer with you in body, but know I will always be with you in spirit.  Evil and I have talked, and we are both in complete agreement on this.  We discovered gold on our land, guess it wasn’t just a rumor after all.  We can’t get to it, and don’t really care.  But we both feel this way, if something should ever happen to either one of us or both, our share of whatever riches are in that mountain are to be given to the people of Stone Creek, to do with as the town decides.  It’s the least either of us can do for you folks, the wonderful people that opened their arms and their hearts to us at the loss of our parents.  You really truly are our family, if not by blood at least by love.  I know in my heart you will work together to find the best possible use for whatever the gold is worth, and if it ends up not being worth much, at least maybe you’ll remember the thought behind me wanting you all to have it.  I don’t have much else to give you, other than the promise that you all meant the world to me, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for always being there for me, and for Critter. Don’t ever let the evil that is in this world destroy your spirits, goodness may not always triumph over evil, but never stop trying to overcome it.”


Okie folded the paper back up, and placed it back in the envelope.  “I’m gonna give this to you, Pastor, for safe keeping, until we can figure out what to do about its contents.  For now, I’m going to ask that no one bother Evil about this yet, he knows what’s in the letter, and is in agreement with it as Calico stated.  But he’s got plenty of healing to do, and could use the peace and quiet.  Especially when I know for a fact that he plans on going after Gardner as soon as his leg will let him, and White Eagle intends to go with him.  Heaven help Gardner when those two get their hands on him, and I hope they send him to the Devil where he belongs!”  The rest of the townsfolk all nodded….they all had their private thoughts on the matter, but this wasn’t the time or place to be bringing them up….no, today was just for honoring the life now lost to that evil, and the love that a young woman had for the people she called “friends”….

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The sheriff's office became so crowded that the meeting moved to the church, where there was room for everyone for a meeting. The mayor had started the meeting before passing it off to Sheriff Cody. Every business in town had closed their doors, even the hotel. Everyone in town sat quietly, all feeling the same emotions. Shock, grief, anger and resolve were nearly palpable, and it was visible on the faces of the townspeople, many with tears still streaming down their faces.


Sheriff Cody paused, taking a breath, before speaking, his voice soft and hoarse with grief. "This has gone on for too long, and it has gone far too far. Slim has looked over the trail, and it appears there were three riders. He saw the footprints of one small boot, what appeared to be a woman's boot. So long as we don't get rain, Slim has vowed his best to track them. We'll leave here with a posse within the hour."


Pausing again, to choose his words carefully. "Now, if this is a legal posse, we need to treat it legally. If we can take them alive, we do, and we try them. The friend in me, the man who looked at Mary as a younger sister doesn't like that. The lawman demands it though." There was a small grumbling from those in attendance, but also nods of agreement.


Looking around, Cody said, "Doc, Pastor, Bob, Dave, Seamus, I'd like you to join me. We'll ask Evil and White Eagle to join us. I think we owe them that. Everyone else, I think it is more important than ever that we have a robust watch. I see a few new faces in town. Uno, Roy, I'm thankful that the two of you have decided to not only stay, but step up to help. Your help with a watch in town is appreciated. It appeared they were headed toward Tucson. I telegraphed to let them know. There is some good news there. Seems they have a new Sheriff. A guy by the name of Rye Miles." Cody couldn't help  but smile slightly, and there was a muffled sound of approval from the audience.


Finally, looking around, Cody asked, "Any questions? If not, I say we get going. Provisions for a week." As the crowd broke up, the men who would make up the posse stepped forward. Doc held a piece of folded paper in his hands. Clearing his throat, Doc spoke, "Their place passed to Evil by deed. Should something happen to Evil, there needs to be something in place. I used to say I was a lawyer, so I took the liberty of writing up a will. I took it out to him to explain it to him and sign. If something happens to him, the property goes to the town, in trust. If White Eagle survives him, it gives him the ability to live there and operate the ranch for so long as he likes, what would be called a Life Estate in legal terms." Handing it to the others to review, Doc continued, "I think it should go to the bank for safe keeping."


Doc pulled Sarah Jane aside to say his goodbyes, just as the other married men were. "I promise I'll be as safe as i can be. You do the same. I want you to take care of yourself..." Looking down and placing his hand on the very small bump showing on his wife's belly, he looked up and smiled "And somebody else." Sarah Jane smiled and Doc thought she might look more beautiful in pregnancy than before. Sarah Jane looked her husband in the eye. "I was thinking... If the baby is a boy, since Pastor Keller named his son Mathias, I'd like to name him Saul. If a girl, maybe Mary or..." Her eyes searched her husband's before she added "Abigail." Doc closed his eyes momentarily at the suggestion of naming a daughter after his deceased wife. Nodding, Doc cleared his throat. "I would be fine with any of those, but I believe we have plenty of time still." Leaning in, Doc kissed Sarah Jane. "I love you, my dear wife. I need to be going."

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Nine riders left the home that Calico Mary's had shared with her brother, along with their friend White Eagle. When Sheriff Cody had asked the two young men to join the posse, to bring Mary's murderers to justice, both agreed without hesitation. Both also agreed when Cody explained they weren't out as vigilantes, but to bring them back to trial, if possible.


White Eagle, who was a skilled tracker in his own right, had agreed with Michigan Slim's assessment, that there had been three riders, one a female, and that all three had taken part in firing at the house. He went further to say he had seen small boot prints near where the barn had been lit on fire, and walked Slim and others to show them. To his eye, the female had lit the barn on fire. Slim concurred.


Getting enough food to tide them over, the nine began following the trail. Slim and White Eagle at the front. Often times it seemed the three had taken little effort to hide their trail. Other times they had worked so it disappeared almost entirely. The posse was dogged in their determination. This was to be the end of a long, dark chapter in the history of a good town. Not one man in the group wanted to return having failed in that goal.

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Pastor Keller sent a telegram to Rye in Tucson alerting him to a group of 3 riders, one a female heading his way to Tucson. He also informed him that Calico was killed in a gunfight with these three. Rye stopped and set the telegram down and wiped his eyes. Calico gone? He couldn't beleive it. She was a favorite of Rye's, they needled each other about everything but all in good fun. Rye was fuming about this and wanted to kill all three of these varmints on sight but the telegram said Wanted Alive if at all possible! Rye understood the reasoning behind this but still the rage inside of him was hard to keep down. He went back to his office and told his deputy, Cole Alan, about this. Cole was good with a gun and also a great tracker from his beaver hunting days. Cole was getting up there in years but he still could handle himself and his tracking skills were still sharp.

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When Rye walked into the Saloon and scanned the room I saw his eyes settle in my direction and I saw a pain in his face that was evident.  He walked over to the table and took the bottle and moved it out of the way.


"I got word from Stone Creek." He said with more effort than it should take, before handing me the telegram.  I read it and reread it several times, my own anger welling up.


"Sheriff, I am at your service. Whatever you wish for me to do, I will execute your instructions to the best of my ability."


He nodded "I figured-do what you did to Johan."  I nodded, "We need to talk in private." 


A few minutes later, we were in his office "Rye, I didn't do anything to Johan, but I would have gotten around to it if I hadn't been beaten to the punch."


He looked at me "So then, who did?"  I shook my head "It doesn't matter and it isn't my place to say . . . call it attorney client privilege.  But the fact remains Zeb Gardner is convinced of it and that works to our advantage."


Rye nodded "He wants to kill you, and you are volunteering to be bait."


I smiled "Exactly.  Why don't you lock me up for the torture and murder of Johan and lets get a trial on the schedule."


Rye looked at me "You sure?"


I nodded-"What's the worst that could happen?"


He shrugged "You could get lynched"


I looked at him "Yeah, but I know you won't let that happen."


He extended a hand and proclaimed solemnly "No, I will not."

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I've known men who could track a horse fly across a glass pane.

I've known men who couldn't track a muddy dog across a clean floor.

Michigan Slim and White Eagle were both of the former variety.

Ophelia kept up easily with the horses: the tracks we followed, I was told, were not hurried.

The tracks, they said,  were also in plain sight, and that troubled me... there was no effort to conceal their travel.

Are they that insane, I wondered, are they that single minded, are they that sure of themselves?

They have to be going to a place of refuge.

I did not know the territory ahead, but the men with me did.

The men I rode with were good men and true, well versed in man-tracking.

Surely if we were being led into an ambush, they would know.

We were not in single file; we were flanked out in an arrowhead ... I rode out a bit further, eyes busy ...

If I were to set up a bushwhack, where would I lay wait?

What if there is no ambush?

What if the murderers simply went to their refuge and they're sitting there gloating ... 

I remembered how the flower felt in my fingers, how it turned slowly as I laid it on her box, I remembered pressing my palm flat on its smooth lid, a final goodbye to someone I"d come to love and admire.

The old rage I kept hidden, the murderous killer that was the other half of my soul, that reaver that hid behind my face, stirred and whispered and sang power, whispered dark promises of blood and rage and destruction, and I knew that unless I kept a good hold on that dark part of me, I could very easily lay with murderous rage among the Philistines.

Ophelia moved easily under me, the sun was warm on my back, I thought back to the day I decided to go into seminary.

I'd helped surgeons cut men apart to try and save their lives and the thought of becoming a physician still turned my stomach: I wished to heal, not to harm, and so I set my steps toward the pulpit, and I counted myself fortunate that the killer was still part of my soul.

I cannot save another's soul if I'm not alive and breathing, and if evil wishes to harm those I love, why, evil is on that moment bought and paid for.

Those who came against us will not stop until we are all dead, I knew.

The gold ... God help us, that gold could ruin us, and all the guilt of what I'd seen, of what I blamed myself for causing, came back, accusing, trying to crush my spirit.

I shook my head.

They came after us, they'd killed good people, enough was too much, it was time to stop them the only way we could.

Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord:  so it tells us in Scripture.

I maintain the Almighty subcontracts, and when necessary, I am a subcontractor.


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Doc Ward rode wide on the opposite flank from Pastor Keller. He had opted for the sorrel over the new chestnut he had purchased. The big horse was a fine mover, but was untested over a long distance. The sorrel, Doc knew, had staying power. As he rode, his eyes searched, looking for a hint of danger. Glancing at the other riders, he knew he was alone in his thoughts, like the others.


He could still picture Mary in his mind. Frail looking, but strong and energetic. Her emotions could be mercurial, but she was kind, fun and lovable. Doc shook his head in disbelief as he scanned the surrounding landscape. His mind wandered as he looked about him. He would have traded places with her in a heartbeat. Even with the remarkable turn his life had taken, he would have given it up to spare her death. As Doc rode, he wondered if he was responsible. Doc knew he had been the one to strike Gardner with the butt of the shotgun. He had killed Gardner's men. He had tortured and killed Johann. Doc pondered it all, and came to the conclusion that while Mary might have been spared, others surely would have died, starting that night at the barn party. No, he could not have guilt over her death. But he could help there be vengeance.


Vengeance. Doc had sought it for himself. For the loss it had meant for him, for the pain and suffering felt by innocent animals. The pain and death he had inflicted as a result didn't bother him. Johann's screams at his hands didn't affect him as much as the sound of horses dying in agony. The man had been instrumental in causing those deaths, and those sounds that still haunted him because he felt at fault for not being able to save them. Doc felt guilt over the deaths of the animals, but not the men. Men can choose good or evil. Those he had killed had chosen evil, and had paid the price. Now, he and the others with him were seeking vengeance for another innocent. A good and wonderful girl. He would not feel guilt when they died, either.


As he continued scanning the landscape, Doc thought he caught a flash of light. Watching, he hoped to spot it again. Several possibilities existed. A lens, a rifle barrel, even an outcropping of quartz. Doc didn't change his position as he rode, but spoke loud enough for others to hear. "Flash of light off something around the small knoll ahead and to the left. Half mile off, maybe a bit more." Several pairs of eyes took to scanning more intensely in the area as they rode. Seeing no further glints, Seamus spoke up. "Is that a bit of dust hanging in the air?" Shading his eyes, Charlie, or Evil as others called him, said "I believe so, but I can't be sure." The members of the posse became more alert, fearful of an ambush.

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The cell door was closed and one by one the other prisoners were released for their minor offenses until I was the sole occupant of the cell.  At that point the lock on the door was left open and my guns were positioned out of view, but not out of reach.


Rye brought me a meal of a steak with all the fixin's which I ate happily.  After I finished, I spoke to Rye


"Rye, I think we need to get the papers involved.  I wrote up something." I handed him the paper and he read it


"Notorious gunman, scoundrel and itinerary lawyer J. Mark Flint was taken into custody as the first act of Sheriff Rye Miles, of Tuscon, Arizona.  He is charged with the capital crime of murder and will stand trial on the 25th of this month. Sheriff Miles has urged all citizens of Tuscon to watch for unusual activity or any possible criminal element that may be seen in the area and to report the same."


He nodded.  "It's a start. I guess hanging you is probably going to far though."


I shrugged my shoulders "I don't know, seen it faked before."

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Rye thought about it for a minute and said, "Wait a minute, as my first act as Sheriff this is not going to look good since it's fake". I have to worry about re-election". Let's just let the word get out on it's own that you're a no good and you're locked up on suspicion of murder. I'd feel more comfortable with that". It's a good trap, but let's not let it get out of hand and don't forget the varmints that we want to hear about this are not exactly scholars".

They agreed to do it Rye's way, after all Mark had no choice, Rye WAS the Sheriff! Mark understood Rye's logic and said," Yea maybe this is a bit too much but how do we get the word out?" Rye rubbed his chin and said, "We'll, The saloon is a good place to start plus most of the town knows I've got someone in jail even if they don't know who you are, trust me the word will spread and if those varmints are on the way here they'll catch wind of it soon enough". 

How's was the steak? asked Rye. Mark said, "Delicious, along with the fried potatoes and biscuits". I wish I had something to wash it down if you know what I mean". Rye laughed and pulled out a bottle of Old Overholt rye from his bottom desk drawer. "They don't call me Rye for nothing".

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Copper and Kitty held hands as they looked up at the pulpit.

They were alone in the stillness of the church, looking up to where the man in the black suit stood on Sunday, talking in plain language, speaking as if to each individual soul there.

Copper swallowed nervously, remembering the Pastor's hands, strong and capable, how they'd shown him how Saul's level worked: he'd put it on a railing, touched the swinging plumb-bob to damp its travel, then they watched as it slowed, stopped, and the plumb-line settled with an engraved, vertical line.

"That tells us it's sitting on a level," he explained.  "Now watch."

He lifted one end of the level, slid a short wedge under it, intentionally throwing it off:  the plumb-line settled wide of the mark.

"Now let's ask this," he'd said, and Copper remembered the smile that hid at the corners of the man's eyes, as if he were sharing a cherished secret with a trusted confidante.

"Let's say we wanted to try this porch post for vertical. Could we use this level to do it?"

Copper remembered how the Preacher set Saul's level carefully aside, picked up a long piece of wood that looked like a common length of 2x4.

"Let's set the edge up against it like this," he said, "and see what the plumb line tells us."

Copper watched as the man damped the plumb-bob's swing, bent over with hands on his knees and watched closely as the string settled precisely over the scratch.

"Is it plumb?" the Preacher asked, and Copper could hear the smile in the man's voice.

"Yes, sir, it is," he replied, and straightened.

"Good."  The Preacher set the plumb down, looked the porch post up and down as if assessing it.  "I set this one myself.  The old porch was built good enough" -- Copper looked up as the Preacher looked down, as he grinned down at the attentive lad.

"It was good enough," he chuckled, "but good enough is not good enough so I tore it apart and built it right."

Copper stood in the silence of the church's sanctuary, holding his sister Kitty's hand, looking at the pulpit, and he suspected this precisely crafted podium had also been built by the man who'd taken him in as his own son.

The hallway door opened and Miz Loreli came bustling in, all books and papers and round lens spectacles, smiling as she saw the two children:  she stacked books on one end of the piano, arranged papers on the music tray, drew the piano stool back a few inches and smoothed her skirts under her:  she took the cover's knobs between thumb and forefinger and carefully lifted it, folding it back out of the way, exposing the dust-free keys.

"I wish I knew how to play," Kitty said sadly, and Miz Loreli turned her head to look at the pair.

"I think you can learn," she said, her voice gentle.  "I did."


Kitty's face lit up like a sunbeam and she skipped happily over beside the schoolmarm, leaned against her a little as Miz Loreli spread her hands and caressed the ivories:  Kitty felt the schoolteacher laugh a little, silently, and she lifted her hands, then uncurled one finger.

"This is kind of how I sounded at first," she sad, and she played one note, then another, "but with practice I got better."

Copper wandered silently back into the Parsonage, back to where Anna Mae was just finishing up young Mathias' care:  fed, warm, freshly changed, the little fellow was drowsy:  Copper sat and looked, big-eyed, at the little fellow, and said in a small voice, "Can  hold him?"

Anna Mae smiled and turned, nodded:  she waited until Copper was seated in his father's rocking chair.

Anna Mae put the swaddled infant on his lap:  Copper wasn't quite sure how to hold an infant, but it wasn't hard, and he allowed his Mama to guide his arms:  Anna Mae looked back a few minutes later, smiling.

She heard the piano, and she saw her sons, one asleep, the other with his cheek laid over on top of the other's head, his arms protectively around the blanket wrapped baby.

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The riders rode another half mile. Michigan Slim and White Eagle dismounted, studying the trail they followed. The other riders slowly moved to cover, looking for any signs of danger. White Eagle studied the ground as he walked toward the small knoll Doc Ward had thought he had seen light come from. Slim and White Eagle mounted their horses and the posse rode on. They rode while longer before Slim and White Eagle drew up. Slim put to fingers to his lips and let a short, sharp whistle. The riders walked their horses to where Slim and White Eagle stood and dismounted.


Slim wiped the sweat from his forehead while White Eagle spoke. "One of the male riders. Looks like he paused to check their trail." Looking at Doc, he continued, "I think you saw a field glass of some sort. Seamus saw his dust, riding to catch up with the others. They know we're following, and we aren't too far behind, but they don't seem to be hurrying."  Utah Bob scratched his chin as he thought before speaking. "That means they believe they can lose us, or they don't care if we catch them. Or, maybe, they expect us to catch them when they have help at hand."


Looking at Sedalia Dave, Bob asked, "Dave, we've been all over this area over the years. It seems they're going almost aimlessly, back and forth, but in the direction of Tucson. Maybe skirt it to the north. I can't think of where they might be heading, can you?" Taking a drink from a canteen, Dave paused, thinking, before shaking his head no. "I can't think of anywhere, but I'd say we need to try to push our pace a bit, we've been lucky and actually seem to be gaining on them. If there is help waiting, I'd prefer to get them before they get there." Everyone agreed, and Cody turned for his horse. "Mount up, then. Slim, White Eagle, lead on."



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The mind is never still.

I remembered Southern prisoners, captured but not broken, singing "To Arms in Dixie" -- singing defiantly, in spite of their captivity -- and none had the heart to stop them.

There were martinets among the officers, those without actual experience, those who'd never faced the gallantry of the South ... martinets who would happily drive a rifle butt into their singing guts, or break their jaw, to shut them up.

I never had any such compunction.

I rode, slowly, cautiously, eyes busy, but part of my mind still heard those Suth'n voices raised in defiant chorus.


Anna Mae knelt before Copper, stroking his cheek with a gentle forefinger.

"I shall be in the bell tower," she said softly, leaning a little on the rifle in her off hand:  its crescent butt plate was grounded, the muzzle pointed to the ceiling, her hand delicate but firm around the hand checkered fore-end:  "Sarah Jane is coming over, and she will tend Mathias, but I need you to keep good watch.  I can see at a distance, Copper, but if someone were to sneak in close to the church or the parsonage either one, I would not be able to see them."

"Yes, ma'am," Copper said seriously, and he felt Kitty's hand tighten on his.

"Kitty," Anna Mae said in her quiet, gentle voice, "you have eyes as well.   I need you to help Copper keep good watch."

"Yes, ma'am," Kitty said in a shy little voice, and Anna Mae's heart melted a little at the sight of the apple-cheeked little girl's bashful lowering of her eyelids.

She is beautiful, Anna Mae thought, and she will be a beautiful young woman, and part of her mind remembered looking in a mirror, many years before, back in the Carolinas, back when she was a little girl in fine gowns in a fine mansion.

Half her mouth twitched in an almost-smile.

How did a beautiful young belle become a bell-tower sentry, with a rifle and the will to use it? she wondered, and thought momentarily she might mention the subject to her husband as possible material for a sermon, and then she thought of her tall, lean husband, in his black suit, astride their mule and far from home, and she felt her eyes sting a little.

Copper and Kitty surged ahead and seized their Mama quickly, tightly, and her free arm ran around them both, and they drew a comfort from this silent affirmation of how much each one needed the other.

There was a tap at the kitchen door and the children released, fell back, watchful:  Kitty's hand sought her brother's, her free hand coming up, her knuckles to her lips: Anna Mae rose and almost heard Copper's whisper, "It's all right, Kitty, I'll keep you safe."

They watched as their Mama cautiously looked around the edge of the window, then opened the door:  "Sarah Jane, do come in!"


I felt the hair stand up on the back of my neck and my gut tightened like a hand reached in and squeezed it and Ophelia responded to my knee and whipped hard right and surged a few steps, turned to face where we'd been going, her ears forward.

My thumb eared the hammer back on my Winchester and I tasted copper.

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The posse had been traveling in their wide arrowhead, Pastor Keller to the right, Doc Ward far to the left, and the rest in between, with Michigan Slim up front along with White Eagle following tracks. The rifle cracked off to the right of the posse, seemingly at the same instant as Pastor Keller brought his rifle up to return fire from the saddle. Michigan Slim and White Eagle, caught in the open, rolled from their saddles and began returning fire, Seamus and Cody quickly dismounted and did the same. Utah Bob began firing from the saddle as he pushed his horse for for a better position, as he was to the left of Slim and White Eagle. Sedalia Dave's horse, startled by the sound of a bullet whipping past, reared and spun, making it difficult for Dave to bring his rifle to bear. Doc Ward, being far to the opposite flank where he had been ranging, put spurs to the sorrel, and the horse, unaccustomed to them, reared slightly before breaking into a gallop toward the shooter. Doc passed behind the posse in their original direction of travel, leaning forward into the saddle, reins in his left hand and Winchester in his right..


As soon as he cleared the Pastor, his eyes focused on the puffs of smoke coming from behind a small rise, and the dirt flying up in the air as bullets from the posse kept the unseen sniper's head down. As soon as Sedalia Dave gained control, he followed, pulling to the sniper's right even as Doc Ward hooked around to his left. As soon as he spotted where the shooter was, Doc sat back in the saddle, pulling the reins as he pushed the stirrups forward, causing the sorrel to lower his haunches into a sliding stop. No sooner had the horse stopped than Doc had kicked his feet from the stirrups and was off, levering his Winchester and firing again and again as soon as he took a knee. The sniper jerked with the impact of a bullet, but shifted to try to fire at Doc, when Dave cleared the small rise, using his Colt to finish the sniper off.


The members of the posse looked carefully around, expecting more bullets to come their way from other directions. After a few minutes of waiting, guns at the ready, they slowly pulled back to the body of the sniper. They knew immediately it wasn't Zeb Gardner, because he was too short. Rolling him over, Sheriff Cody asked if anyone recognized him. Slim spoke up, "He came into Miss Whiskey's a couple of times. I believe his name was Michael, but never did get a last name." Cody looked around, at the ground, and White Eagle started looking for tracks. Finding them, he started trailing, finding a dun colored horse picketed near a small spring that offered a bit of grass. It wore the rocking lazy B of Zeb Gardner's bunch, and was a nice horse. Checking the saddle bags, Sheriff Cody found jerky and a bit more, but nothing else to identify the rider.


Walking him back, Cody looked at the dead man. "To hell with taking him with us. We don't have shovels, so pull his guns and ammunition, then put some rocks on him and let's get moving. We'll take the horse with us. We might need it before this is over. That's one for Mary."

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Coiled steel whispered dark promises as it compressed, as I shoved two fresh rounds into the Winchester's magazine.

Ophelia's head was still swung hard right, thrown from the sound of the rifle's shot:  she shook her head, worked her ears, stuck her neck out and gave that God-awful screaming whinny of hers and I eased my knees into her, and she started up again.

It was my place to speak the words over the dead, and I did:  I helped pack rocks to stack over the carcass, I pulled off my cover and I committed his corroded soul to the God Who put it in that moving meatpile in the first place.

My words were more mechanical, more rote, than they were heartfelt.

I know I went into Seminary to heal my own bloodied soul, and some part of me knew that by helping others heal, I would heal as well:  right now, though, I knew that sometimes healing means cutting: a boil will not go away if you ignore it, the damned thing has to be opened and drained and the core brought out, peacefully or otherwise, and that is always painful.

I reckon there was some good in this dead man.

I did not know him and I did not know his life and I've learned to leave that to the Almighty, for He knows all things about all men.

I spoke the final words and said "Amen" and "Amen" was repeated by the three around me and then we set our covers on our heads and reached for our reins and we saddled up and followed where our fellows led.

We rode with rifles in hand and eyes busy, for we were on a mission of war, and each of us fully intended to put blood on the moon.

Even the Preacher.

Even me.


Two men rode, two men with grim expressions and galvanized, spouted cans tied on behind them, cans that held about a quart apiece:  each man carried two of these, some Lucifer matches, and orders from the man who'd paid them well indeed for their services.

He'd told them a distraction was needed.

He'd told them his pursuers would have no choice but to return home and cower there behind closed doors, fearful of attack.

He'd paid them well and told them where to meet him later, and they agreed, not knowing their employer had no intention of ever seeing them again.

He'd told them to fire the church and the newest building there.

Two men rode through the night, pushing their horses, satisfied they could take what they wanted from the town they intended to raid:  they'd done this before, and more times than one:  leave their own, unmarked, exhausted mounts, take the best of the fresh saddle stock, kill anyone who resisted them, and disappear into rough country, where they could hide or confuse their tracks.

They approached on foot, watching:  they'd been told the women were watching, but they had a low opinion of women, having used them for their pleasure and little more:  women danced in saloons and serviced their baser desires, some women might be wives and mothers, but they were all the same inside, they were all saloon girls and dealers in horizontal refreshment, and the women they'd known were all broken souls who cowered and wept when backhanded and addressed in a harsh voice.

Two figures in dusty riding coats approached the back of the church, watched:  they saw the woodpile, they conferred in low voices:  the fire would start well in the corner:  they would lay kindling on the inside corner with tinder beneath, they would slip over to the newer building and set another, there:  at one's signal, the other would anoint his pile with the can of coal-oil he carried, then together they would scratch a Lucifer and light the hot, fast flame.

Wood in this territory dried fast, and fire loves dry wood, and both knew this little town had nothing resembling a fire brigade:  as soon as their flame was lit, the two would run for the stable, wait for the town's attention to be drawn to the twin fires, then they would slip away in shadow, and be gone.

The night was cool, just a few night insects singing:  kindling was split and stacked, a tidy pile, and the arsonist silently blessed the soul who organized his fuel in such a neat and easily carried away stack.

He almost whistled as he worked, carefully, silently piling rag waste, with a short splash of coal oil, then the kindling, stacked in a lean-to against the wooden church structure:  he smiled just a bit, imaginging how the flame would surge up under the warped, flared-out siding, eating the structure from within as well as without.

He unscrewed the smallest cap from his can and started to pour coal oil on the kindling when a youthful voice said "Good evening, sir," and he turned, startled, just in time to inherit a hard-swung frying pan right squarely in the face.

Miz Loreli later would remember that, just before her shotgun shoved hard back into her shoulder, just before her charge of shot splashed coal oil over the second arsonist, she distantly heard Copper's cheerful greeting, just before the ringing sound of hard-swung cast iron meeting a human skull.

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Rye and his deputy Cole Alan spotted 3 riders coming towards them from about 100 yards away. One was small in stature. Rye thought maybe this was Zeb and his cohorts. The small rider in the middle could have been a woman. As they got near to the riders Rye shouted out "Hold up". The riders took off to the left at a furious pace. Rye and Cole took off after them. They rode for quite some time at full speed going up and down hills and through some nasty desert brush. The riders disappeared over a large hill and all of a sudden Cole's horse came up lame! He must have stepped in a hole or soft spot. "Cole stopped and said some choice words and looked at his horse's leg. Sure enough the worst injury to a horse, a broken leg. The horse was is agony and could hardly stand. Rye said, "Only one thing to do here". Cole took his belongings off the mare, a saddlebag, his Winchester '86 rifle and a canteen. He left the saddle and blanket on the horse since he would have to double up with Rye and head back to town. Cole loved that horse and was breaking in the mare's son back in Tucson. Cole looked at Rye and said, " This is something I just hate to do". He gently let the horse down on her side so she could at least get some relief from the pain in her leg. Cole stroked her head and whispered a few things to her thanking the horse for her service. He pulled out his Colt and fired a shot in the back of the mare's head. He climbed on with Rye and they rode back to town both of them not feeling very good about what just happened.

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Clara's hands trembled as she gripped two eggs.

A brisk tap on the side of the mixing bowl and she defly dumped the contents into the mix, dropped the crowns into the little pail: coffee grounds, crushed eggshells, all would be added to her little garden, all would feed the table herbs that made her provender worth the diner's time.

Flour and cornmeal and a little brewer's wort for yeast, a good broad pinch of sugar, a short splash of her own alcoholic vanilla infusion:  she added ingredients, frowned, added fresh milk, still warm from the donor bovine:  a wire whisk and a few minutes' work and the pancake batter was mixed:  she stirred it slowly, checking for lumps, gave it a few more spins:  satisfied, she nodded, set it aside, returned to the cast iron stove.

She thrust the crank into the hole, shook the ashes twice, set the crank back under and fed the firebox another few sticks:  her frying pan was flat on the stove, preheated; a lump of bacon grease, carefully stirred along the seasoned cast iron, and she picked up a ladle, a small one, and smiled.

Her mother used to make Silver Dollar Pancakes, and she'd made them thin and just a little crispy along the edges:  try as she might, Clara couldn't quite get the hang of it:  hers came out wafer-thin, like crepes, or thick and substantial, and she came to prefer substantial.

She set into a regular rhythm, five dribbles of batter, five circles of browning pancakes, bubbling a little, ready to turn when they were just dry on top, just dry but not more: she flipped them easily onto a plate, onto another plate: she mixed another batch, she made more, she went to the front door of her little restaurant and put two fingers to her lips and gave a sustained, wavering, high-pitched and very penetrating whistle.

Stone Creek knew what that whistle meant.

It meant come and get it, that Clara was restless and nervous and a little shaken by what happened through the night, it meant come and sit together and have pancakes and relax a little.

It meant that when Clara was scared and when Clara was nervous and when Clara couldn't think of anything else to do, she cooked, and she cooked for the whole town.

Clara set butter out on the tables, she set out jars of molasses and of honey and the coffee was smelling really good and the door opened and the first of the ladies came in.


I thought absently my stomach was so empty the sides were kind of sand paperin' together as I rode, so I reached back and brought out a sweet roll sandwich and chewed on it.

Pancakes, thought I, sandwich in my left hand, my good right hand wrapped around the Winchester's wrist, and the rifle across the saddle bow in front of me:  I'd kind of like to have pancakes right about now.

It was an irrational thought, and I pushed it from me.




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Calamity helped Clara with the breakfast. Fresh juice from Farmer Johnson's apple orchard, bacon done just right, not too crispy and not too chewy, and all the company anyone could want.  While the smells were heavenly, the mood was a bit of a somber one, for everyone knew one of Stone Creek's finest wouldn't be joining them.  Calico Mary was an integral part of the town.  She always had a smile, a very quick whit and more than willing to lend a hand when and where needed.  She was sorely missed this morning.  As the ladies were taking their seats and preparing to eat, Calamity and Clara walked to the front of the cafe to speak.  Calamity spoke first.  "Ladies, I want to start this morning's gathering by thanking Clara for her wonderful hospitality.  She has gone far above and beyond to keep us together in this difficult time."  The ladies clapped in appreciation.  "I would also like to take a moment to remember Calico Mary.  She was like a sister to me" Calamity said as she began trembling.  "I would like to request a moment of peace to remember her by.  Say a prayer for her and Critter, if you are so inclined."  By that point, Calamity's voice was cracking and tears began to stream down her cheeks.  Clara leaned over and gave her childhood friend a hug.  After a long moment, Clara began "I would also like to thank you ladies for doing such a wonderful job of helping keep Stone Creek safe.  Without the town coming together for the watches and such, there is no telling where we would be."  The ladies nodded approvingly, looking around to see all were in agreement.  Calamity gathered her whits and started again, "We are not out of danger yet.  As I'm sure you all know, evil is still hunting for us.  We have to keep vigilant.  Just this morning, Lorelei and Copper stopped two men from burning the parsonage down."  Gasps of shock moved through the gathered crowd.  "Thank you Lorelei and Cooper for stopping those evil men."  Another round of applause was heard.  As that was dying off, Uno Mas and Roy came through the door to surprised looks from the ladies.  "Welcome gentlemen" Clara said invitingly.  "Please come and have some breakfast with us.  The men weary from their watch, eagerly agreed. 


After the first shift was finished eating, they relieved the current watch shift so they could partake of Clara's wonderful meal as well.  It was a brief but wonderful respite from the stress of the watch.  All those gathered appreciated the rest. 

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"You'll live," Doc Okie grunted, "but there was no savin' your leg."

The prisoner raised his head a little, still groggy, still half sick, looked down at where his right leg used to be.

"You might want to think about gettin' on the good side of folks here," Doc added, washing his hands, drying them briskly and then uncorking a bottle of something water clear and rather potent.  "Drink?"

"Oh my God yes," the patient gasped, and Doc handed him the bottle.

In spite of his own minor inebriation, Doc's reflexes were good enough to catch the bottle as his patient's fingers convulsed, right before the eye-watering, gasping patient coughed out a little puff of smoke and wheezed, "Good God, that's awful!"

Doc Okie took a short tilt, swished the liquefied fire around, feeling it set his gums aflame, before swallowing and giving a contented sigh, then stoving the cork back in the bottle's neck.

"I get this from some wild Kentucky moonshiners up Colorado way," he said, smiling a little as he stared at the bottle the way a man will stare at a favorite puppy:  "our Preacher has it freighted in right along regular."  He tilted his head, frowned at the bandaged stump.  "Just lay still, you're not goin' anywhere just yet."

He leaned closer to the shivering, sweating man.  "Now who sent you two, and what were you sent to do?"


The color drained out of Sarah Jane's face like red ink squeezed out of an eyedropper.

"He was hired to what?" she gasped, and Doc repeated himself, and Sarah Jane whirled and took two running steps toward the door, yanked it open.

She stopped, ran back in, seized her rifle, spun, stumbled, stopped:  as she flew out the open portal, not bothering to close it behind her, as she pelted across the street, her voice went from "ohmigodohmigodohmigod" to "ANNA MAAAAAAAEEEE!"

Anna Mae's head came up.
She stepped out on her kitchen's covered porch, her nursing son at her breast, her other hand filled with the walnut handle of one of her husband's revolvers:  she stood, tall, resolute, her thumb on the hammer spur, ready to bring the muzzle down and the hammer back.


Sarah Jane ran toward her, eyes wide and face pale: she seized the porch post, skidding a little, lost her footing, fell:  she pushed up, scrambled up the three steps on hands and the balls of her feet, she seized Anna Mae around the waist and shoved her back into the house, slammed the door, leaned back against the closed door, panting, shivering, the very portrait of fearful femininity.

Anna Mae's face was hard and set and she slid her uncocked revolver back into its slender holster.

"Sarah Jane, are you hurt?" she asked, reaching out, laying her palm against the shivering woman's pallid cheek.

Sarah Jane shook her head, swallowed, sagged:  Anna Mae seized her arm, hooked the leg of a chair with her toe, steered the collapsing woman into a seat.

Anna Mae dropped her face into her hands and moaned.

Anna Mae went to her knees beside her boon companion, her hand warm and reassuring on Sarah Jane's back:  "What happened?" she whispered.  "Is somebody dead?"

Sarah Jane shook her head, lifted her face from her hands:  terror looked out her eyes and fear drew her pallid lips tight across her even white teeth and she tried to speak.

Anna Mae rose.

"I will make tea," she said, her voice calm and businesslike, and Sarah Jane's spirit seized on these simple words, seized them as a drowning man might grasp a life-ring in a stormy sea:  she willed herself to stillness as Anna Mae, her arm supporting little Mathias, her free arm tapping the teakettle lightly with the backs of her fingers.

Sarah Jane saw Anna Mae nod with satisfaction, reach up into the cupboard where she kept her tea:  she brought out a metal acorn, one of two she kept loaded with tea leaves, ready for a quick insertion into hot water.

Sarah Jane willed her hands not to tremble when finally Anna Mae set a cup and saucer before her, then turned, picked up her own and carried it to the table.

Sarah Jane picked up her cup with both hands, not trusting a one-handed grip, and then a tear launched itself over the rim of her left lower eyelid and skated wetly down her cheek.

"He was supposed to shoot you when you ran out of the burning building!" Sarah Jane blurted, and then she pushed her teacup back, laid her arms across the table in front of her and lowered her face, letting her fears and her stresses and her hidden imaginings loose.


"So you were sent to kill the Preacher's wife."

It was a statement, not a queston.

Doc's patent nodded miserably, staring at the ceiling.

"Why the Preacher's wife?"

"He figgered that would take the heart out of everyone.  Kill the preacher's wife and everyone would figure nobody was safe and ..."

His voice trailed off, his eyes unblinking, staring sightlessly at the roof beams overhead.

"And it didn't work," Doc Okie finished for him.

His patient brought his arm up over his eyes, shook his head.

"The fellow who was with you... know him?"

"Collins,"  came the muffled reply.  "Albany Collins."

"Friend of yours?"

"Never saw him before."

"He'll likely die," Doc said conversationally.  "An eight year old boy smacked him in the face with a frying pan. Broke his face up and he's got brain fever now. Likely he'll --"

There was a thrashing from the next bed and Doc strode over, seized weathered wrists, tried to control the sudden, violent, convulsive flailings:  his best efforts were for nought, and the sufferer fell from the bed, wallowed violently for a few more moments, then relaxed and laid still.

Doc turned him over, checked the throat, held a mirror to nose and mouth.

"Well," he said finally, "he's dead."

He looked up, found his patient halfway across the room, wobbling on one leg, reaching for Doc's shoulder holster.

Doc Okie yelled "NO!" just before his patient stuck the stubby pistol's barrel in his mouth and blew most of his brains all over the wall behind him.


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Rye and Cole returned to town and Cole got himself another mount. They headed back out to see if they could find that trio of no gooders again. They went to where Cole left his dead horse. There she was half eaten by all different kinds of scavengers. There was a flock of buzzards that flew away just as they rode up. The carcass was almost unrecognizable as a horse except for the saddle which was still on her back. Her head had been gnawed through as was most of the rest of the body. "Man that didn't take long huh?" Rye said. Cole looked on with a sad face. "Well at least she provided a good meal for the scavengers, looks like they all had a feast" said Cole. They rode on and tried to pick up the tracks from the trio of horses. Cole picked up on a trail right away and they followed it. Rye had his Colt in one hand and reins in the other. They rode for a few miles when the tracks seemed to disappear. "Looks like they were headed north" said Cole. They continued north about a mile when they picked up the tracks again. "It looks like they headed up to that cave up ahead, we'd better watch ourselves they may be in there looking at us right now" said Cole. It was a large bear cave that could either house the bad guys or worse some bears. They both dismounted, tied up their horses and walked very slow towards the cave with their Winchesters in hands. A shot rang out and just barely nicked the stock of Rye's rifle. They hit the dirt and crawled to a very large cactus to hide behind. Another shot hit the dirt about 10 yards in front of them and another about 5 yards. They started shooting back towards the cave. The shooting suddenly stopped. Rye and Cole waited and waited and waited..............

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Once news of the attempt on Anna Mae's life got through town, a widespread panic started to set in.  The towns folks wondered, how many more people does Gardner have?  When will they try to strike next?  Worst of all was, When will this ever end?  The biggest fear amongst the ladies were the children.  A makeshift nursery had been set up in the back of the schoolhouse to help care for the little ones so their mothers could stand watch.  A couple of ladies who were not able to stand watch, Anastasia Morris who was expecting her second child and Melody Clark who was much too frail in her advanced age to safely handle a firearm, staffed the nursery.  They did a fabulous job of keeping all the little ones fed, clean and dry.  The towns folks wondered, who would defend the nursery, if it were to come under attack?  Those little ones are the future of Stone Creek.  Many of the ladies felt they were better off taking their children home and ensuring their safety in a familiar environment.  Calamity understood completely.  Try as she might, Calamity found it increasingly difficult to keep spirits up and the watch folks focused on their posts. They feared for their families.  Calamity feared for them too.


Uno Mas and Roy cornered Calamity in her dress shop after their watches.  What was Calamity going to do now?  She pondered for a moment then gave the men this answer.  "I know we are short on watch positions.  I have been mulling the post positions in my head and believe I have come up with a plan that will allow us to remain as covered as we can be with fewer people."  She drew out a map of the town on a piece of pattern paper.  If we move the position from the top of the saddlery across the street to the top of Clara's restaurant, that will afford the person a view down both streets,  That will save us one position."  The men both nodded in agreement.  Roy added, "if we move the person from inside your dress shop to the corner above the sheriff's office, that will give them another good view to watch from."  The three continued to discuss better positions and ways to defend the town.  In all, moving the positions relieved five spots from the watch, the last one being behind the blacksmith shop.  "What are you going to do with that position?" asked Roy.  "We should have enough coverage now."  Calamity looked at both gentlemen and told them "you are going to watch Anna Mae and Sarah Jane.  They are the most at risk right now, based on the latest information.  I could not live with myself if any harm came to either of those ladies or their children."  Both men solemnly nodded.  "Uno, please ask Sarah Jane to stay at the parsonage so you only have one house to watch.  I'm sure Anna Mae could use the company."  "What if she resists," Uno asked?  "I don't think she will, under the circumstances.  I know she is a strong woman but she is in a difficult position right now and I believe the two ladies need each other."  The men agreed.  They tipped their hats and headed out the door, saddling up to head for the parsonage.  Calamity stood in the growing darkness of her shop wondering when this would end and if peace would ever return.  She hoped so but it wasn't looking good.

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Rye and Cole waited a good 20 minutes until they decided to crawl up to the cave. On their stomachs with their rifles they belly crawled their way up the slight hill to the cave. There were cacti and mesquite trees on the way that added some cover. When they got to the mouth of the cave Rye took out his Colt and fired a shot directly into the cave and slinked back to the side. Nothing happened. No sound. He fired another and again they heard nothing. They decided to rush into the cave and hit the dirt when they got in. They both ran in and hit the ground. Nothing! As they looked around in the dark cave they could see a light at the far end of the cave. They walked towards it and it got bigger and brighter as they got closer. It was a small hole just enough for a man to crawl through. Rye looked dismayed as they peeked out of the hole and in the distance they could see dust kicking up about maybe a mile away. "Damn", said Cole, "They got away". Rye didn't know what to do, it was too late to get back to the horses and try and catch up to the trio. They could be anywhere by then. They were heading east of Tucson. 

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After covering the dead man, Doc took his hat off like the others as the preacher said words. Hearing the mumbled, half-hearted amens spoken by the others, Doc put his hat on and turned for the sorrel. Pausing to check his just filled canteens for fullness, Doc then leaned to check the horse's legs and hooves, then checked the girth before mounting up. Leaning to pat the horse on the neck from the saddle, Doc whispered, "OK boy, time to keep going."


As the posse moved back to the trail, Doc again began scanning the distance, looking or any hint of movement or danger. As he rode, Doc chewed on a piece of jerky, trying to stretch his provisions, thinking seven days may be a bit short. His mind wandered and he could hear Sarah Jane's almost musical voice saying, "Do what you must, but do it well, then come home to me." Doc commented to himself, "I certainly intend to. Then, hopefully to be husband and father, and no more need to kill men."


The posse was about due for a break when they heard gunfire in the distance. Looking from one to another, the unspoken command was obeyed by all and they picked up their pace. First to a fast walk, then as they heard more gunfire, a trot. As they rode, they heard a few more sporadic shots then nothing. As they got close to where they believed the shots came from, they drew up and dismounted. Leaving Dave and Seamus with the horses, the remainder moved slowly forward, making use of every bit of cover. Michigan Slim, seeing two men walking through the brush toward horses, leveled his Winchester and shouted, "Don't... OH, Hey Rye!"

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Rye explained to Doc and the posse what they went through. Doc was amazed at the cunning of the three outlaws. "They're a smart bunch of varmints aren't they" said Doc. Rye agreed and said, "Yes these three are running for their lives and they'll stop at nothing to save their sorry behinds". They decided to get after them no matter how long it would take to catch them. They knew where they were headed, just east of Tucson. They all mounted up and started after the trio of no goods.

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I lowered my head and bit my bottom lip.

I was tired of this pursuit.

I wanted to get it over.

Reavers came against my town, reavers spilled the blood of my people, and Sheriff's admonition or not, I was firmly of the mind that the Lord's vengeance was mine to dispense.

I took a long breath and dismissed the thought.

What I wanted was unimportant.

If I cast the law aside, so might my fellows, and we would then be the lawless, and if good men abandon the good, where then is the land?

I raised my head, patted Ophelia's neck, swung down to join the council of war.

I wished for a well drawn map, the kind I'd helped put together back during that damned War.

My pale eyed Captain had a gift for mapmaking, but he was clear the hell and gone up Colorado way, and ...

 stopped, blinked, surprised.

Even my thoughts are those of the man I used to be.

Listen to yourself.

That is the coarse and colloquial language you left behind when you took up the cloth.

A hand squeezed my shoulder and I looked over at Doc's concerned expression.

"Preacher," he said, "you all right?"

I looked away, considered, looked back.

"I find my temper is less ... tolerant ... than it was when we began."

I did not expect Doc's reply.

I saw his eyebrows raise a little, his eyes widen slightly, as did his mouth; he began to chuckle, he pounded me happily on the shoulder and he nodded, finally grinning as he declared, "If this is wearin' on a Preacher's spirit, I don't feel quite so badly about my own ill temper!"

"Were you ready to drive each of 'em into the ground like a fence post?" I asked, and the others, taking a moment's respite from their serious discussion around a dirt-drawn map, looked at us with amusement.

"Fence post hell," Doc chuckled, thumping my shoulder happily, "I was ready to skin 'em alive."  He looked at me and added, "With a spoon!"

That was enough to break the tension.

There was quiet laughter as we returned to the dirt drawn map.

We held our council of war, we listened to men who knew this terrain and this territory, we planned our intercept course.

There was water nearby; we watered our mounts, pulled our saddles, rubbed down patient, strong backs, checked hooves and legs and I bribed Ophelia with a half stick of peppermint:  I turned and said "Doc, a word, if I may."

Ophelia laid her jaw over my shoulder and I rubbed her long snout absently.

"If Malachai himself came to kill Calico, he's about run out of soldiers," I speculated. "Chances are he'll have no one else to do his dirty work and he'll be intent on escape and recovery."

Doc gave me a skeptical look and I grinned.

"I hold no illusions," I admitted.  "He is 'subtil as a serpent' and I doubt me not he has cash reserves to throw into his endeavor."

Doc grunted, raised an eyebrow.

Part of me considered that Doc was apparently well educated, he certainly spoke as a man of intelligence, but sometimes -- like now -- a grunt, a skeptical look, the slight rise of an eyebrow, spoke as well as an hour's oration.

"He can't raise troops nor can he spend that cash until he returns to it and in the meantime it's just the two of them."
Doc nodded slowly, considering.

"Rye is the law where we're headed. Could he but get word ahead and get a screen of lawmen set up to --"

I stopped, frowned, looked away.

"I'm sorry.  We don't have the resources of a wartime army."

Doc looked thoughtful, then turned to Rye, lifted his chin.

"Rye, now that we know where they appear to be headed, the Preacher here has an idea."


Calamity looked around the inside of her dress shop, sank slowly into a chair.

So much she'd planned, had fallen apart.

All she wanted  was a simple life, she wished to work in fabrics, she wished ...

I wish I could get some rest.

Calamity leaned her elbows on the work table, her face in her hands, she look a long breath, blew out out through puffed cheeks and pursed lips.

She stopped, puzzled, raised her head.

"Excuse me?" she said, then wondered why she'd said it, for nobody had spoken --

"Things always change," came a voice, and it was a woman's voice, an old woman's voice, barely heard.

Calamity blinked. "Hello, who is there?" she asked, more puzzled than fearful:  she did not feel a threat in the unexpected visitor, just ... curiosity.

Those doors were locked, she thought, how'd somebody get in? --then rose.

An old woman glided out of the shadows, a woman in the style of thirty years before, a woman with age engraved deeply in her withered hands and her aged but kindly face.

"You fear for what could happen," she said in almost a grandmotherly voice.  "You should think just as hard on the good that could come."

"They came to kill Anna Mae," Calamity exclaimed, "and to burn the church --"

The old woman's quiet, knowing smile was enough to bring Calamity to a stop.

"It is nearly ended," she said, "and your men will hold their sons the way proud men will, and" -- she looked up, and Calamity saw amusement in the deep-set old eyes, "the Preacher's leg will be wet."

Calamity's mouth opened and she blinked, absolutely unsure what this might mean, and the old woman turned and took a step, back into the shadow, and was gone.


Anna Mae looked up, her hand going to the shotgun parked nearby: she took a quick peek out the window, parked the double gun, opened the door.

"Why Calamity, you look as if you've seen a ghost!"

Calamity stepped uncertainly into the tidy kitchen, looked from Sarah Jane to Anna Mae, opened her mouth, closed it.

"There is tea," Sarah Jane offered helpfully, and Calamity nodded, and Sarah Jane rose and steered the obviously uncertain woman into a chair.

Anna Mae set the steaming-full, delicate-bone-china cup and saucer in front of Calamity:  their pallid, uncertain guest picked up the cup, closed her eyes, took a long breath, savoring the smell of fresh, hot oolong, then opened her eyes and looked uncertainly from one feminine benefactor to another.

"What did your old mountain witch look like?"

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"It'll mean going back to Tucson and sending some telegrams," Rye stated. Utah Bob spoke up. "Could Cole do that?" Rye nodded, then told his deputy who he wanted him to send messages to. "Cole, when you're done, if it doesn't take too long, grab a fresh horse and some provisions and try to catch up. Check on J. Mark Flint, and make sure everything is OK in town first." Cole nodded, "You got it, Sheriff." Walking to his horse, he mounted up and turned for Tucson.


Rye quickly turned back to the others. "You're in my territory, so I'm hereby deputizing all of you. Any questions?" The men of the posse nodded their agreement. "Makes good sense," Bob replied. Pastor Keller spoke up, "What's wrong with J. Mark Flint?" Rye looked at the men standing waiting for an answer. "He's in jail. He's to stand trial for the torture and murder of Johann Becker." Doc's head jerked up, his response immediate, "What?!?" Pastor Keller put a calming hand on Doc's shoulder as Doc's face turned red with anger. Before Doc could say anything more, Rye held up his hand, "I know he didn't do it, but Gardner believes he did. It was a ploy to try to lure Gardner out."


Nodding his understanding, Doc turned, and walked away from the group. Rye looked concerned, and glanced at Keller. "Is Doc alright?" Looking at Doc walk away, his hat off, running his fingers through his hair, Keller turned back to respond, "I think this is getting to him. He's fearful of losing more friends," Keller said, confident that what he said, if not the complete truth, was not a lie.


Walking away from the small group as they finished their short break, Doc found a spot and took a seat, looking off into the distance. Doc could see Johann's face as he lay on the ground, his body battered and broken, and he could hear Johann's final words of "Thank you, Herr Ward," hissed through teeth gritted against pain. He could hear the gunshot ending the man's life. Doc felt no remorse for what he had done, but the thought of another person paying for his actions shook him. Speaking to himself, Doc muttered, "If necessary, I'll admit to it, and be done. Perhaps I have lived too long, after all." Staring off into the puffball clouds, Doc could hear Abigail's voice, as if she were sitting next to him. "You still have much to do, and much life to live. Don't you dare leave Sarah Jane to raise your son without a father." Doc sat bolt upright, expecting to see his deceased wife as he jerked his head to the left, only to see a small juniper.


Shaking his head, Doc stood, running his hand through his hair before replacing his hat as he walked back. Muttering to himself again, Doc said, "A son. Now how would she know that?" Doc then chuckled to himself, "Because she has the magic about her." Hearing him, Pastor Keller tilted his head as he looked at his friend. "Who has magic, Doc?" Looking up in surprise that his words had been said aloud and heard, Doc opened his mouth to speak, paused, then shrugged. "My wife. Abigail. Although Sarah Jane might as well, who knows. She's gaelic and a redhead, after all." Pastor Keller gave a slightly amused look and shook his head. "You aren't making much sense, man. Sometimes I have a hard time fathoming the direction of your thoughts." Doc laughed, his mood lightened a little. "Abigail was scolding me and telling me to take care of Sarah Jane and my son." Looking back at the rock Doc had been seated on and the juniper beside, Pastor Keller looked back at Doc more confused than before, nodded, and simply responded, "Uh huh."

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Sarah Jane listened to Uno as he explained how it would be helpful if she were to stay at the parsonage with Anna Mae. She agreed it made sense in that it made it easier on the watch to protect the people. Still, she had concerns. "What if they decide to burn our house, or the livery again?" Uno frowned as he thought before replying, "I believe it is a chance we'll need to take. A house and stables can be rebuilt, people can't be replaced. I know it isn't normal, but put the horses out in the pasture until the posse returns. We can go and get some of the more important things from the house and bring them to the parsonage as well. How does that sound?" Aching with worry over losing her home, Sarah Jane nonetheless agreed. Smiling, Uno said, "Let me got get Parson Keller's surrey, and we'll go to your place and you can pick up the important things."


Uno stood behind Sarah Jane as she looked around, trying to decide what was important enough to take. First clothes. Putting as much as she could into two carpetbags, Uno carried them out as Sarah Jane continued looking for other items to take. Her family Bible. Doc's book of poetry from Abigail. Her tableware. Uno came back in, and started gathering the things she laid out. "The tartan. Don't forget the tartan, Ben will want that." Looking around, Sarah Jane tried to figure out where the voice, a woman's voice, came from. Looking at Uno, she asked, "Did you hear that?" Tilting his head to listen, Uno replied, "Hear what?" Sarah Jane started to respond, "A voi... I thought I heard..." Shaking her head, Sarah Jane said "Never mind." Pulling the tartan blanket from the back of the chair, she folded it carefully and handed it to Uno. As she followed Uno from the house, closing the door behind her Sarah Jane puzzled at what she had heard. Or thought she had heard. She had only seldom called Doc by his given name. Nobody in town did. Yet, a voice only she had heard in her head had.


As she was getting ready to climb into the surrey, Sarah Jane saw Uno Mas looking down the road from The Junction, where two riders were approaching. Looking dusty and trail weary, both had the look of rough men. Sarah Jane saw Uno remove the thong from his revolver, and she glanced down to see the rifle in front of her as she stood, the surrey between her and the men. Sarah Jane's mouth went dry and she could feel her heart beating in her chest as she watched Uno step out away from the surrey. "Can I help you gents?" The men looked at Uno, and drew up at the same time. "Just going into Stone Creek." Uno shifted slightly to put one rider between himself and the other, and to try to take Sarah Jane out of the line of fire. Uno noticed the one nearest, wearing a faded red shirt under a brown vest, resting his hand on his thigh within easy reach of his gun.


"Mind if I ask why? We've had a bit of trouble of late." The man closest to him, snapped "We're more," as he reached for his pistol. Sarah Jane never saw Uno move, it just seemed that suddenly his gun was in his hand and flaming, the man in the red shirt falling back as his horse reared. Suddenly the second man fired, spinning Uno Mas around, and he hit the ground, not moving. Screaming, Sarah Jane reached for the rifle, pulling the hammer back and pointing it at the man who had shot Uno. Her right arm made the rifle appear awkward to her, but Sarah Jane had shot it just fine many times. Tears were streaming from her eyes as she said "Just turn around and go away. Please. I don't want to hurt you." Grinning, the man kept his revolver in his hand as he dismounted from his horse.


"I don't think you'll shoot me." The man grinned as he slowly approached Sarah Jane, walking past Uno as he lay face down. "You're that tall skinny tramp that used to work The Junction. Looks like you might have put a bit of weight on. That's good. I like that." Sarah Jane kept backing away, the rifle pointing at the man. "Please, don't come any closer. I don't want to..." The man stared in Sarah Jane's eyes as he slowly got closer. "I think I'll have a little fun with you. I'm sure nothing you ain't done before." Suddenly Sarah Jane heard the voice in her head again, "BREATHE!" Blinking back tears, Sarah Jane began breathing deep, her nostrils flaring, calming herself. Seeing the man's leering face moving ever closer as she backed away, Sarah Jane heard the voice, commanding her, "You're a warrior born of warriors, married to a warrior. FIGHT!" Taking a deep breath, Sarah Jane screamed in rage, in anger at this man for making her squeeze the trigger. The man's eyes grew large and she felt the butt of the rifle shove into her shoulder. "Again!" Working the lever on the gun, Sarah Jane fired the rifle again and again. Even after the man had fallen, until it clicked empty several times.


Seeing the man motionless, Sarah Jane ran to Uno Mas, rolling him over, seeing blood all over his scalp. Groaning, his eyes fluttered open and he began to reach for his head. "Stop. Don't" Reaching, Sarah Jane ripped her dress and began rolling the material to press against the bleeding wound. "Can you get up?" Uno groaned, "Yes, just help me to my feet." Handing him the rifle to help push himself up, Sarah Jane got on his other side to help Uno to his feet and to the surrey. Helping him in, she quickly got in herself and took the reins, slapping them to the horses. "I'll be alright, other than a headache." Sarah Jane looked at him and said, "We'll let Doc Okie decide that," as she wheeled the surrey into town. Sarah Jane swore she heard the voice again, say, "You're worthy. I can rest."


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I felt awkward and out of place, but my soul was in desperate need of ... what?


I was yet a young man in Union blue, far from home and I felt like a fiddle string, tuned up and worn on, and I longed for quiet and I longed for ...


What is peace?

I wished for that safe haven, the ... I wished for ... 


Home, when I was a lad.

Home, where I knew my place, where my father was the ashlar upon which the universe itself was built.

Home, where a hurt would be soothed away by my Mama's hands, where my nightmares were kept at bay by the sound of her quietly humming to herself as she darned Pa's socks by the fire, home, where an empty stomach was filled at the table where we bowed our heads and gave thanks to the Almighty for our provender.

Perhaps that's why I'd turned my steps toward the seminary.

I sat in the back, wishing to be invisible; the robed priest in the front of the room looked back at me with a quiet smile, but continued his lesson:  not five minutes later, to my disappointment, he released his young charges -- schoolboys, the lot of 'em -- and he came back and sat down beside me.

We sat in a companionable silence for a time, and finally I cleared my throat uncertainly and hazarded, "Your boys ... they're so young."

He nodded.

"Everyone else has gone off to war," he said sadly. "None wished to be known a coward, and so they all marched off to offer their living souls on the altar of the Republic."

I grimaced.

I'd been taken in by a slick talking recruiter who promised our cause was just, our purpose, grand, our sacrifice, most necessary.

I'd had serious cause to doubt all those things.

"You've been hurt."

I blinked, nodded, my flat hand going unconsciously to the terrible scar under my blue tunic.

"Bayonet," I said.

"Ah."  He nodded, stuck out a leg, lifted the hem of his light-brown robe, exposing a twisted, ugly scar that ran most of the length of his lower leg.  "Mine, as well."

I whistled.  "How long ago?"

"I was their age," he sighed, lowering the robe.  "Europe is forever squabbling, and I was ..."  

He chuckled, and that surprised me.

"Boys can be told don't go here, and they'll go, and they are told don't do that, and they do it, and my mother told me not to go near the soldiers approaching town, and of course I went."

I frowned, nodded.

"There was a skirmish and I was enveloped and I remember a soldier -- he was tall, he was bloodied and dirty, from a distance his uniform looked colorful and grand but up close he was unwashed and filthy and his eyes ..."
He stopped, closed his own eyes, his hands clenched slowly, then opened.

"He didn't see a boy before him.

"I backed up and turned to run and I fell, and he ..."
He swallowed, looked to the front of the room.

"He was shot as he slashed at me with that bayonet, and he fell on top of me, and it wasn't for an hour that someone pulled him off me and discovered he'd pinned my leg to the ground.

"They carried me to their battlefield surgeon, who washed my wound out as delicately as a hostler shoveling horse-muck out of a stall."  

I think I expected to hear bitterness in the man's voice, but there was almost ... amusement.  Or perhaps it was understanding.

"He wrapped it and told me to go home and partake of my Mama's milk again, babies had no place on the battlefield, and I hobbled out of the surgeon's charnel-house and two soldiers helped carry me home."

He took a long breath, nodded, the way a man will  when he is remembering a very old memory.

"I usually teach young men turning to the cloth, but those fine young men are now wearing cloth of a different color."

"Yes, sir."

"Now I teach young men ... boys, too young to follow the flag."

He tilted his head a little, looking at me speculatively.

"Where are you from, my son?"
"A long way from here," I rumbled, stood.  "Forgive me, sir. I've taken up too much of your time."

He rose -- a little awkwardly, as if that old war wound still troubled him -- he raised a finger, then motioned for me to follow.

We went to the front of the classroom and he withdrew a little pouch, opened it, reached in, withdrew a string of green-glass beads with a crucifix and a couple little medals strung on it.

"This was given me by my grandmother," he said softly, caressing the smooth, shining orbs.  "I have no sons" -- he chuckled again, gave me a red-faced look, and added "My apologies. I tend to state the absurd" -- he returned the Rosary to its pocket-worn pouch, handed it to me.

"I want you to have this."

I took it.  "I thank you, sir, but I'm not Catholic."

"From one wounded soul to another," he said quietly, reaching up and gripping my shoulder.  "You came here for comfort, and that has given me comfort, and I give my Grandmother's comfort and blessing to you."

I remembered something my Pa said once, when somebody unexpectedly gave him an item, I forget what it was, but the man said "Like the old preacher said, all donations cheerfully accepted."

I nodded.  "Thank you, sir."

"Can I do anything else for you, my son?"

"Yes, sir," I said.  "If you could pray for me."

We both went to our knees, and we talked to God about it.


Anna Mae didn't talk to God so much as she screamed at Him.

"OH GOD NO!" -- 

Sarah Jane's head came up and she powered toward the door into the hallway, the short hall that connected the Parsonage to the Church.

She looked wildly about the inside of the Church, looked back, her eyes went wide, her hands to her mouth --

Copper lay on his back, unmoving, eyes wide, and Sarah Jane heard Anna Mae scrambling down from the bell tower, and Sarah Jane remembered hearing Anna Mae tell Copper, "Stay with your sister, Copper.  I am going up to keep watch, but I don't want you climbing up there, it's far too dangerous!"

Part of Sarah Jane's mind remembered her Mama telling her about her brothers, how she could tell them not to do this, and they'd sure enough do it, or not to go there and they would just bust their backsides to go there, and Sarah Jane saw Anna Mae jump the last few steps as she came down the inside of the bell tower, landing ungracefully on splayed fingers and the balls of her feet, and she collapsed, slowly, pale, shocked, she looked beseechingly up at Sarah Jane, her mouth working, afraid to touch him --

Sarah Jane knelt beside the unmoving lad, her hands moving of their own volition:  she laid a hand on his chest, felt, frowned: she laid the backs of her fingers against his nose and barely-open mouth, then she turned him over, seizing him by shoulder and hip, rolling him suddenly, viciously, and pushed Anna Mae out of the way:  she straddled the boy, ran her hands under his belly, picked him a foot and more off the floor, lowered him down:  she raised him again, lowered him:  thrice more did she pick up on his belly and lower him down flat, and on the fourth try they heard a faint, "Ow," and Anna Mae's hands went to her mouth and Sarah Jane rolled him over again, straightened his arms, his legs, caressed his face, pushed her face down close to his.

"Say that again," she whispered, and they saw his belly working, and he got a little more air into his shocked-still lungs and said a little less faintly, "Ow."

There was a sudden hard hammering at the church door:  "OPEN UP IN THERE!  OPEN UP, I SAY!  MRS. PREACHER ARE YOU HURT?"

They heard the patter of little flat-soled shoes and they saw the interior of the church brighten as the doors swung open and they heard Kitty's little-girl voice say, "Hello,"  and then men's heels, hurried, urgent.


It was Sarah Jane's turn to prime Anna Mae with hot tea.

"He only had the wind knocked out of him," she soothed.  "Nothing's broken.  He didn't fall that far, and he landed flat on his back."

"I should have been there --"

"You were there," Sarah Jane said firmly.  "You were where you were supposed to be, where we needed you.  He's a boy.  Boys do things and get hurt.  He'll do worse, unless I miss my guess."  She patted Anna Mae's hand.  "Now finish your tea, dearie, and take your place in the bell tower.  Uno was hurt keeping us safe, and we ladies are not going to countenance anything of the kind happening again!"


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(Just a little out of order!)


Sarah Jane had driven the surrey into town as fast as possible and her and Uno maintain their seats. She used all of her strength to pull on the reins to bring the team to a halt, setting the brake and leaping down to run into Doc Okie's office, saying "Don't Move!" to Uno as she hurried in. Seeing the tears streaming down her face and the look in her eyes, the normally curmudgeonly doctor stood up quickly, asking "Are you alright?" Sarah Jane began rambling quickly as she often did when flustered, "Out to our house... Two men... Uno Mas killed one, but he's shot..." Putting a calming hand on Sarah Jane's shoulder, the doctor asked, "Uno was shot? How bad, where is he?" Sarah Jane was about to reply when the panicked voice of Calamity Kris carried through the doors "Oh, Lord, please no! Uno, no, please talk to me!"


Pushing past Sarah Jane, Doc Okie stepped out of his office to see Uno still seated, holding the crumpled cloth from Sarah Jane's dress to his head. His face and the front of his shirt were red with blood, and he was holding out his hand to Kris. "I'm fine, I'm fine," was his response as she rushed to him and gripped his hand. Doc Okie climbed up beside Uno in the seat and pulled the man's hand away and lifted the cloth. Grunting, Okie said "Huh! Darn lucky if you ask me! Grazed your skull and took a little hair and skin, but that's about it. I'll wager you felt poleaxed. A couple of sutures and you ought to heal right nicely. Might have a helluva cowlick though. You ladies help me get him down." Calamity reached to help Uno down and inside the office, then helped him lay back on the exam table inside the office.


As soon as he was laid back, Sarah Jane, her face pale and tears still streaming down her cheeks backed up to the wall and slid down it, wrapping arms around her long legs and burying her head in the fabric of her dress at her knees. She visibly shook as the shock of the events hit home. Uno was telling Kris and Okie what had happened as they cleaned him up. Sarah Jane caught bits and pieces, that fed her own fresh memory of what occurred. "Gent closest tried to draw on me.... Shot him out of the saddle... Spun and fell and everything went dark... Next thing I heard was Sarah Jane screaming and the sound of a rifle firing over and over... Then she was turning me over... Ripped cloth from her dress, pulled me to the wagon to bring me here."


Sarah Jane felt a hand on her shoulder and lifted her head to see Calamity Kris on her knees beside her. Through her own tears, Calamity asked "Are you alright? Are you injured?" Sarah Jane, still shaking, worked to find words. "I... No... I'm not hurt... I... I don't know if I'll ever be.... I killed that man... I shot him until I couldn't shoot anymore..." With those words, Sarah Jane broke down, sobbing, as Calamity pulled her close, holding her crying friend to her. "You'll be fine. You had no choice. You were defending yourself and Uno. You're strong, you'll get through this. We'll get you over to the parsonage now with your things so you can get some rest. Anna Mae is there with the children waiting for you."

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